José Gorostiza: Collected Poems. By José Gorostiza, Edited and translated by M. W. Jacobs. ISBN-13: 978-1985830257 226 pages $22.95
Poetry / Caribbean & Latin American, Mexican Poetry, Hispanic poetry
José Gorostiza’s poetry is “the most… concentrated of modern poetry in Spanish,” according to renowned Mexican poet and Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz. Hence, this thin volume of collected poems, which, nevertheless, has as much poetry as many bulkier tomes. It’s just that here, the poetry is concentrated in fewer poems.
The Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature expresses the consensus of Spanish-language critics on Gorostiza’s masterwork, Muerte sin fin (Endless Death): “It is impossible to overstate the importance of this poem… among the finest in the Spanish language… takes its place alongside Eliot’s The Wasteland (1922) or Valéry’s Le Cimetière marin (1920) as one of the pinnacles of sustained poetic achievement in the 20th century.”
Yet, inspite of Gorostiza’s importance to Spanish language and especially Mexican literature, about two thirds of this book appears in English translation for the first time. The only other English translation of Muerte sin fin has been out of print for nearly half a century.
In lectures at Harvard in 1971, Octavio Paz considered Muerte the equal and opposite to Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda’s masterwork Canto General (1950). Paz called the latter “a monument to loquacity” and the former “a monument to reticence.” In the collection of literary essays, The Siren and the Seashell, Paz wrote, “The only intellectual [Spanish language] poets of this period were two Spanish Americans: the Mexican José Gorostiza and the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges… Borges and Gorostiza belong to the great tradition of intellectual poetry: Coleridge, Leopardi, Valéry…”
Preeminent Mexican poet and man-of-letters Alfonso Reyes called Muerte sin fin “the diamond in the crown of Mexican Poetry…a statueof rock crystal… a tower of lights… His work is as scant as it is great… [He is] the diver… surfacing with the pearl in the palm of his hand. He dispenses with all the useless and squeezes the essence.”